HARRISBURG — Todd Lambert is one of a dying breed.
He doesn’t exactly revel in that knowledge, but he accepts it. But, he doesn’t let reality deter him.
Lambert trains bird dogs and hunts quail. The Harrisburg resident frequently has to drive several hours to compete in National Shoot to Retrieve Association sanctioned events. A circuit court judge, Lambert describes hunting and bird dogs as a way of life.
“I wasn’t raised as a hunter, but I had some health issues at a pretty young age because I was working too hard, worrying too much,” he said. “A doctor gave me some good advice and told me I really needed a hobby. I had a brother-in-law that was a big bird hunter and he invited me to go.
“After the first bird dog point and first covey flush I saw, I was hooked. It was something I’ve enjoyed ever since. The fever seems to get worse and not better.”
Lambert currently has four dogs, three short-hairs and a setter, that he’s training. And, when it gets down to the nitty gritty, it’s really the dog work that keeps the sport interesting.
“If I never shot another bird, I’d be just fine as long as I could watch a dog do the things that a dog’s genetics make him do, like find and point game,” Lambert said. “I get more enjoyment out of watching the dogs work then ever shooting a quail."
That a good attitude to have, perhaps the only attitude to have. Quail, once plentiful throughout the region, have become scarce.
“There are lots of theories on that,” Lambert said. “Lack of habitat is one, herbicides and pesticides, that has to have an effect, more predators – the quail and rabbit go first. There are clearly more coyotes now than there has ever been, a lot of foxes and things that prey on quail and rabbit.
"I don’t know if I’m a person who perseveres or a fool. On the days I’m successful I’m a perseverer and on the days I’m not, I’m a fool.”
Most quail hunters and dog trainers are pushing the limits of middle age. It’s not a pursuit that attracts a younger crowd. As a result, trial participants spend a considerable amount of time talking about ‘the good old days.’
“People remember the days when you could walk out your back door and within the course of an hour get into three or four coveys, when everyone was hunting and had a bird dog,” Lambert said. “They remember those days. Those were good times. There is a lot of nostalgia that drives the sport thankfully. For a lot of people, that’s the untold impetus to what they do. It won’t take you long if you hang around with a bunch of bird hunters to hear a story about something that happened in the past.”
And, he certainly understands why the sport isn’t more popular with the younger generation. Keeping and training dogs is time consuming and isn’t cheap. Finding actual quail to hunt gets more difficult every year. Plus, travel to field trials can be a burden.
“Maybe the younger generation they don’t have anyone in their family that is a hunter because the quail population is down, there was no hunter role model for them,” Lambert said. “There are less and less younger people getting into the sport. There is less quail. If you’re not going to get to hunt a lot and you’re not going to be able to find game when you go, it doesn’t make sense to do that sometimes.”
But, once the sights and sounds of working dogs get in your blood, you just have to keep at it.
“I’ve really enjoyed the Shoot to Retrieve experience" Lambert said. “It’s like everything else in life, you think you’re pretty good at something and you go out and find out you’re not as good as you think you are. I’ve got to see some really amazing dogs. It’s a way to extend the quail season nearly year-round.”
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